7 September 2014 14:51
Antonio Conte takes Italy to Norway for their Euro 2016 qualifying opener having already erased pessimism with optimism.
The four-time World Cup winners won just one of 10 matches prior to the recent appointment of the 45-year-old – a run which saw them suffer a disappointing first-phase exit at Brazil 2014.
But despite fielding an under-strength side, Conte masterminded a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands which prompted countless Italian football personalities to shower him in praise.
“You already saw tonight he has given us a very precise idea of football,” Leonardo Bonucci told Rai Sport.
“We tried his ideas tactically from the first day – the same ideas that helped Juventus win three consecutive Scudetti. His methods are certainly strong. These 10 days have been the right pill to absorb his battling spirit.”
Italy and Norway have Croatia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Malta for company in Group H.
With Mario Balotelli suspended for the game in Oslo, Conte overlooked him for the Bari friendly. In the Liverpool striker’s absence, goalscorer Ciro Immobile and debutant Simone Zaza formed an impressive tandem.
Conte hinted that the Borussia Dortmund man and the unheralded Sassuolo player will lead the line against Norway.
“We had worked on the combinations of strikers and the understanding between them, with various different options and players,” he explained. “We need to keep working, though, as on Tuesday we’ll play a Norway team who have proven themselves to be tough.”
Gianluigi Buffon is expected to replace Salvatore Sirigu in goal and, with Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio injured, Marco Verratti should return in midfield.
Norway have won just one of their last 12 outings, most recently in a 1-0 loss to England at Wembley.
Per-Mathias Hogmo nevertheless accentuated the positives from that narrow defeat: “I thought we did well. I thought there were a lot of positives we can take into the Italy game.”
New captain Per Ciljan Skjelbred is an influential figure for Norway, while Hogmo is a fan of young Blackburn Rovers attacker Joshua King.
Norway have won three and lost six of 13 meetings with Italy.
The sides met in Euro 1992 qualifying, where Norway drew 1-1 in Genoa and Lars Bohinen hit the winner in a 2-1 upset in Oslo.